I realise that I wrote a lot about my recent Ad Limina visit to Rome but very little about the meeting with Pope Francis!
When we met the Holy Father all eight bishops sat in a close circle around him. He immediately put us at ease by gently welcoming us and inviting any questions or opinions – even criticism of himself.We began by stressing our grave concerns about the abuse scandals afflicting the Church. Pope Francis spoke of his own horror at these evils and his determination to overcome them. He has summoned the Presidents of every Bishop’s Conference to the Vatican in January and urged every Catholic to prayer and penance. He was grateful for the efforts made by the Church in Scotland regarding Safeguarding and accepted a copy of In God’s Image.
I expressed my belief that what the Church needs most today is for Catholics to become authentically holy and asked Pope Francis for practical advice. He asked that we bishops be men of prayer but also united with each other as bishops and to be close to our priests and people.
The Holy Father reiterated his condemnation, not just of the use of nuclear weapons, but their very existence. Regarding evangelising in a secular age the Pope urged not anger or force but genuine accompaniment. Our best method of evangelisation is the attractiveness of a Christian life well lived. Pope Francis urged that the Scottish Church be free of clericalism and that clerics listen to the laity and encourage their participation. He also spoke about ecumenism, encouraging friendship with other Christian denominations and, where possible, to cooperate in good deeds.
The Holy Father met with us longer than was scheduled. I left uplifted that the Church is led by such a wise and gentle pastor. Archbishop Leo remained in Rome for the Synod on the Youth and learnt that Pope Francis had also been buoyed at our meeting. During this week’s Bishop’s Conference we wondered exactly why, but perhaps we don’t need to know the answer. What really matters is that the Scottish Successors of the Apostles renewed their fidelity and unity to the Successor of Peter, that we were affirmed by him and that Pope Francis, in a difficult and lonely ministry, left the room affirmed by us. The Holy Spirit never sleeps.